Extra money for higher mayoral salaries to come from €10m fund

Mayors in Cork, Limerick, Waterford to be paid €130,000 if vote passes

 John Paul Phelan Minister of State for Local Government, at the Fine Gael Townhall event at the Clayton Hotel, Cork City calling for a Yes Vote in the Directly Elected Lord Mayor plebiscite on May 24th next. Photograph: Gerard McCarthy

John Paul Phelan Minister of State for Local Government, at the Fine Gael Townhall event at the Clayton Hotel, Cork City calling for a Yes Vote in the Directly Elected Lord Mayor plebiscite on May 24th next. Photograph: Gerard McCarthy

 

The extra money needed to pay the higher salaries of directly elected mayors in Cork, Limerick and Waterford will come from a €10 million fund and will not impact local services, a junior minister has said.

Salaries for the roles will see a significant increase if people vote in favour of having directly elected mayors in plebiscites to be held at the same time as the local and European elections at the end of the month.

The money will come from a €10 million Local Government Reform Fund, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, John Paul Phelan said. He said the proposed move towards directly elected mayors in three cities will see the mayor move from a ceremonial role to one with executive powers similarly to the current Chief Executive.

And, as a consequence, the salary paid to a mayor will increase - in the case of Cork City Council from around €49,000 a year - to €130,000, which is equivalent to the salary paid to a minister of state, making the position of Lord Mayor of Cork a highly attractive political office, he said.

The proposal has led to much criticism with local Cork Anti Austerity Alliance Cllr Fiona Ryan saying that Cork City Council Department of Finance officials were recently unable to tell councillors where funding for the new mayoral position would come from and whether it would impact on council services.

But Mr Phelan has moved to reassure both councillors and members of the public that the new mayoral positions would not impact on councils’ ability to fund existing services with the increase in payments from current salary levels being covered by central government from the fund.

“In the Cork context, much of what is in the Government report about cost is already expended by Cork City Council - the Lord Mayor already has a driver and already has people who act in advisory roles and it’s highly likely one of those advisory position would be filled by existing staff in the local authority.”

Mr Phelan said that “a lot of the cost factors are blown out of proportion” and he pointed out that the €49,000 currently paid to the Lord Mayor of Cork will continue to come out of the city council’s budget with the remaining €81,000 to make up the €130,000 a year salary coming from central government.

Speaking at a public information meeting in Cork about the proposed change, Mr Phelan revealed that any of the 20 or so registered political parties in the state will be able to nominate a candidate to run for the position of directly elected mayor in any of the three local authorities.

But individuals, who are not members of political parties, will also be able to run once they can get 250 electors to sign their nomination papers, opening up the office, which carries a five year term, to candidates from outside of the existing party political system, he said.

Miniscule

Speaking at the same meeting, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney said that it would be a pity if people were to reject the opportunity for having a greater say in the running of their council by opposing the idea of a directly elected mayor simply because of the costs involved.

Mr Coveney instanced the case of Cork City Council, which currently has a budget of around €166 million a year, which is to increase significantly next year as the city council area expands by nearly five times and, in that context, a total expenditure on the mayoral office of €0.5 million per annum was miniscule.

“It would be a real tragedy I think if the debate around the directly elected mayor becomes about whether somebody is paid €50,000, €80,000 or €100,000-a-year (in salary) given the scale of the influence and the financial value of that influence to the city,” he said.

Mr Coveney said that there seemed to be a different standard applied when it came to payment to politicians as nobody would question such payments if they were being made to some newly hired senior executive in the city council.

“If management today were advocating for an extra senior management official or housing official, nobody would be asking where are we finding the money for that and that person would be paid the same or more as the person here who is going to be the face of cork for a five year period.

“It’s no more than the cost of one extra manager in Cork City Council and it’s not going to result in us building less houses or replacing fewer doors or installing less public lighting - I want to assure people about that but sometimes we attach a different standard to politicians than we do to public servants.”